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FLOW CHARTS

As a whole, flow charting has been around for a very long time. In fact, flow charts have been used for so long that no one individual is specified as the “father of the flow chart”. The reason for this is obvious. A flow chart can be customized to fit any need or purpose.

The typical way to collaborate on a flow chart is to map out the processes on a white board. This is OK, but can be cost and time consuming as you erase and re-draw to fine tune the process flow diagram. The easy way to do this is with using "post it notes".

Using this method, you draw the flowchart shape and write each process step on a “post it note”. Then, stick it on the whiteboard. Now it is much simpler to move process flow steps around as you re-arrange and fine tune the flow chart!

This is not just useful for collaboration. It can also be useful when mapping out a complex process flow chart by yourself. Instead of a whiteboard, just stick the “post it note” on a piece of paper, or your wall.

When you have agreed on your flow chart, you can then put it into a final design.

Flow Chart Example

A flowchart is a type of diagrammatic representation of a series of steps or procedures involved in a particular paradigm. The most frequent representation is by the use of columns or boxes wherein relevant information is presented in a logical manner. Each of the boxes is connected via an arrow or similar representation and the basic premise of the entire concept is that the chart should symbolise the logical flow of one idea, or segment of an idea, to another.

Flowcharts have been used for many years to assist in the breaking down of ideas into smaller, logical parts or for portraying the segments within a design or schematic.

History of the Flowchart

Flowcharts were used as early as 1921 by Frank Gilbreth in a conference for ASME and was entitled ‘Process Charts – First Steps in Finding the One Best Way’. This simple, clear and visual method of portraying ideas and concepts was soon seized upon by the engineering industry and became an integral way of portraying product and process. And even as early as 1947, flowcharts were used to plot computer algorithms and activity diagrams.

In the 1970’s however, their popularity waned with the advent of programming languages which were quicker and more convenient to use.

Example

This is a very basic example of a flowchart, expressing the steps involved in lighting a fire. Obviously, the flowcharts can become very complex and involved, but are always supposed to represent a logical, sequential methodology.

Symbols

Start and End – typically, flowchart symbols would have some geometric shape in which the words ‘Start’ or ‘End’ appear.

Arrows – these simply represent the direction in which the flow of ideas or paradigms is intended to flow.

Steps – These are usually symbolised with the use of boxes, either rectangles or squares, which provide the information within the sequence.

Test – Oftentimes, the most reliable of flowcharts will have two arrows proceeding from one ‘steps box’. These two arrows will represent the true or false, yes or no test in which one arrow will direct the reader to the affirmative response and the other arrow will direct the reader to the negative response. Each arrow is labelled ‘yes’ / ‘true’ or ‘no’ / ‘false’.

Commonly Used Symbols

Cylinder – is most often used to represent a data file.

Circle – is most often used to represent a connection from one idea to another.

Rectangle with a wavy base – is most often used to represent a document.

Trapezoid with longest side at the top – is most often used to represent manual amendments to a process or system.

Parallelogram with upward sloping top – is most often used to represent manual input such as information or data entry used in a table or form.

When designing a flowchart, it should be remembered that all systems go from the top to the bottom and from the left to the right. Flowchart Types It is generally agreed that there are usually four types of flowchart that are used. They are:

  1. Data
  2. Document
  3. System
  4. Program

All trace the development of ideas and processes within their own design type.

Within business and government, there are other types of flowchart used, the most common being:

  • Decision
  • Logic
  • Systems
  • Product
  • Process

Conclusion

The introduction of the most basic flowchart in 1921 opened the way for a revolutionary way of understanding and presenting systems and operations. Even the most difficult of processes could be broken down into smaller, easy to understand steps and one of the most important contributions the flowchart has made to modern society is its presence in the Occupational Health and Safety Sector where easy to read charts can be displayed in the workplace for all to see and understand. 

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